Days after losing first place in their UEFA Champions League group to Manchester City following a 1-0 defeat at Sevilla, Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said: “The win was important because we’re coming off the back of an intense few weeks in which we’ve played big games and got some valuable wins. We’re still behind, but there’s 22 games and 66 points left this season.”
Inter had stretched their lead over Fiorentina to four points with a 4-0 away win at Udinese on Saturday and although La Viola remain in second place Paulo Sousa’s title challengers are now four points off the pace.
Fiorentina’s reverse means they have now lost to three of their direct scudetto rivals – Napoli, Roma and Juventus, having stunned Inter 4-1 at the San Siro in late September. But Sousa said:
“Defensively, Juve were strong. We tried to impose our game, although in the second half we were perhaps a little less threatening. But hats off to our opponents. They kept on pressing us.”
Drama in Naples
Napoli remain third, also four points off the pace, after being held to a scoreless draw by Roma, who dropped to fifth to sit seven points adrift. During a thrilling encounter at the San Paolo, Marek Hamsik, Lorenzo Insigne and Gonzalo Higuain were all denied by Roma ‘keeper Wojciech Szczesny, while Daniele De Rossi saw a goal chalked off for the visitors after a questionable decision on the ball going out of play.
“If that was a boxing match they would have ended up throwing in the towel,” said Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri. “We had seven chances on goal to their none, we totally dominated possession and we didn’t give anything away. Roma came here to defend.”
Historically, Juventus have been Fiorentina’s biggest tormentors in Serie A, La Viola losing 70 times to the Turin giants while conceding a club record of 247 goals. This year’s vintage from Florence, however, has shown title-winning potential, Sousa’s men losing only three times before their trip to Turin, and they were off to the perfect start.
The referee stunned Juventus Stadium when he pointed to the spot after consulting the linesman when Federico Bernardeschi tumbled under contact from Giorgio Chiellini. Josip Ilicic stepped up and smashed the ball high into the net to give the visitors a third-minute lead, but Juve were quickly back on level terms.
On six minutes ex-Fiorentina forward Juan Cuadrado got his head to Patrice Evra’s floated cross to send it over Ciprian Tatarusanu and inside the ‘keeper’s far post for an unexpected goal. Cuadrado later admitted:
“I saw Mandzukic at the far post and tried to head it to him, but the ball went in the net.”
Until the latter stages, it was a match of few real chances but for purveyors of one-touch football it was box-to-box heaven. Juventus did not fully threaten again until the hour when Dybala fired his first-timer a yard wide of the Tatarusanu’s near post after Evra’s pinpoint delivery from deep on the left.
Allegri made his first change soon after with Germany midfielder Sami Khedira making way for Stefano Sturaro but it was not until Brazilian Alex Sandro replaced Evra on 77 minutes that Juve found the breakthrough. Three minutes after that change, Pogba found Dybala running into the area and when Tatarusanu came out to close him down, it left a loose ball for Mandzukic to slide in and slam into the roof of the net.
Juventus were denied a penalty soon after when Borja Valero slammed his shoulder into the face of Mandzukic, sending the Croatian to the ground clutching his face. The hosts were soon celebrating again after Dybala finished off a late foray into the area by rounding Tatarusanu and running across the six-yard box to slot home.